Death row inmate questions appealing sentence

Killer tells court he'll stop fight, then changes mind

September 28, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt and Andrea F. Siegel | Laura Barnhardt and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A death row inmate from Baltimore County said during a court hearing yesterday that he wanted to give up the legal fight to save his life, but then changed his mind and decided to allow his legal team to proceed with a challenge alleging that he had ineffective counsel during his 2000 trial.

The hearing, in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, was ultimately postponed until early next year.

Lawrence Michael Borchardt Sr., who was convicted for the Thanksgiving Day 1998 killings of an elderly couple in Rosedale, initially told the judge during yesterday's hearing that he wanted to end his challenge to his death sentence because of his poor health, saying, "They're going to kill me anyway."

"Life without parole is basically the same thing as I got now," Borchardt, 53, told Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Pamela L. North at another point. He said of the death sentence, "At least I'll make their family feel a little better."

However, after questioning by North and after speaking with his three lawyers, Borchardt agreed to allow the hearing to continue without him, saying it would be unfair to his legal team to withdraw the post-conviction claim. Borchardt, who told the judge he suffered from a long list of health problems, including diabetes and brain damage, limped as he was led out of the courtroom.

Borchardt's lawyers later asked for the hearing to be postponed, saying they had a scheduling problem with witnesses. A new court date has been set for Feb. 15.

Borchardt, a former heroin addict from Rosedale, was sentenced to death by an Anne Arundel County jury in 2000 for the stabbing deaths of Joseph Ohler, 81, and his wife, Bernice Ohler, 82. The Ohlers were found by a neighbor Nov. 26, 1998, in their home in the 6500 block of Golden Ring Road.

Borchardt's trial had been moved to Anne Arundel County after his lawyers requested a change in venue. The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed Borchardt's conviction and death sentence in 2001, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 denied his request to hear the case.

In addition to raising the issue of his trial counsel, Borchardt's lawyers in his post-conviction proceedings plan to argue that his health problems and a history of being abused as a child are among the mitigating factors that should have led to his receiving either a life sentence or life without parole, said Jeffrey B. O'Toole, one of his new attorneys.

Several of the Ohlers' relatives and close friends were in the courtroom yesterday.

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